2014 was a pretty solid year for me. My wife Jess and I got married and, although it was full of best friends and tons of love, it will also probably be the last time we will have all our favorite people in the world together at once, which is a sad bookend to a beautiful celebration. Even with the high of getting married, I still have had a tough year dealing with the stresses of everyday mediocrity in my life and job, as well some very troubling family issues. But video games, as usual, have helped me get some much needed time away from the stresses of this world and instead gave me other, beautifully digital worlds to explore and enjoy. Thank you, video games — here are my top games from 2014:
10. Grand Theft Auto V (PlayStation 4)
The Grand Theft Auto series is one that I have seen mature from top-down shooter into the series that revolutionized the modern day 3D sandbox game. It is a series that is ridiculous, over the top, gory, and for the most part, incredibly immature. GTA is a game I love to spend playing for hours with friends, doing nothing except driving up mountains, making our own jumps, robbing casinoes and whatever else sounds fun in the moment. But I have “grown up” a considerable amount over the past 10 years or so, and ultimately, the initial release of GTA V on PlayStation 3 left me a bit disappointed. I had no real interest in the characters, the story was even more immature and misogynistic for my tastes, and the online was a complete mess so I couldn’t play with my buddies and do the nothing I love so much. Since I don’t get as much face-to-face time with friends now that we are all growing up, I honestly had no interest in GTA V last year. But when GTA V released a couple months ago for PS4 and I heard the online was much more fleshed out, my interest was piqued. Over the past two months I have had more fun with GTA than ever before, all while playing with my best buddies online for hours on end. I have not touched the single-player and have no intent to, but the online in GTA V will continue to be my go-to game for stress-relief and belly laughs after a long day at work.
9. Sportsfriends (PlayStation 4)
Sportsfriends is an amazing little package that slipped under one too many radars this year, probably because the game requires friends to play with as it has no single-player or online modes. But, if you are so lucky to get a couple friends together, Sportsfriends is an amazing little jaunt. The title features four individual games, each developed by a different person. Hokra is a sort of advanced pong with hints of soccer, Super Pole Riders is pole-vaulting mixed with Quidditch, BaraBariBall is Smash Bros. with a ball, and Johan Sebastian Joust (J.S. Joust) is a a game which doesn’t even use the screen in the game and instead forces you and your friends to walk around trying to nudge and interrupt each others’ graceful walk-dancing. Confused? Well, pick up the game next time you have at least two to three friends around, and you will be filled with smiles and enjoyment in less that five minutes.
8. Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)
Even as a lifelong fan of Nintendo, most of their first-party sports game usually leave a little to be desired. That is with one exception: Mario Golf. Mario Golf is no watered down version of the sport it recreates, like some of the other Mario (Insert Sport Here) games. Mario Golf has always been precise, challenging, and as deep as any officially licensed PGA Golf game you can find on other consoles. Now, besides being a stellar addition to the Mario Golf franchise, World Tour finally gives the game a beautifully fleshed-out online mode for both single-round and tournament play. No longer stuck to the confines of local play, Mario Golf: World Tour easily stands out as my favorite sports game of the year.
7. Don’t Starve: Console Edition (PlayStation 4)
Don’t Starve has easily been the most-played game within the walls of my house this year. Now, I’ve honestly done more watching than playing, but a game like Don’t Starve is easily enjoyable whether you are doing either. My wife has climbed the ranks of the Don’t Starve ladder with enjoyable anger over the past eight months since we purchased our PS4. The rogue-like permadeath style of the game leads to immense frustration, yet extreme reward. Whether you finally figure out what the Eye Bone does or painstakingly learn how to take down a horde of Beefalos, there is a great sense of completion as you try to survive each and every day likes it’s your last. You will starve and you will die, many, many times, but you will also see yourself surviving more weeks and months as you slowly understand the ins and outs of this beautifully frustrating game.
6. Shovel Knight (3DS)
One of my best friends and I have a “Good Food, Bad Games” day about once a month or so where we seek out or local independent video games store and purchase 5 NES titles that we have never heard of or played before. 75% of the time, these games are terribly infuriating to play, with awful controls and unreasonable difficulty levels, but every once in a while we find a game that feels just right — just hard enough, and with decent controls. As someone who was born in the early ’80s, I played tons of bad NES games. They were all we had at the time, so there was nothing to really compare them to. Shovel Knight is the game my best friend and I are always searching for on our romps to the local game store. It’s the NES game of memories that has beautiful controls, great difficulty, and a stellar soundtrack. It’s a fantastic game that reminds anyone born in the early ’80s of their childhood, and in a time when so many strive to be nostalgic, it actually lives up to the legacy it recalls.
5. Fantasy Life (3DS)
Fantasy Life is the Animal Crossing/RPG crossover I have been waiting for. It’s cute, cuddly, and even the enemies have a teddy bear-esque look to them. It has all the house customization and humor you would find in an Animal Crossing title, yet it has so much more depth and exploration available in its expansive world. With 12 careers to explore, tons of skills to perfect, and an endless supply of items to hoard and craft, I will continue playing this game well into the new year.
4. Worms: Battlegrounds (PlayStation 4)
Worms is a series that has been in my constant rotation of “games to play when BFFs come over” since I first played it back in the ’90s. It’s always had such a simple goal in the end — kill him before he kills you — but it’s the creative pursuit of murder that makes the game feel so original, even decades later. Do you go straight for the grenade and homing missile kills, or do you wall-in your opponent with girders and let them drown to death? It’s ridiculous how it seems like every single match of Worms I have ever played always ends up playing out completely differently from the last. Worms: Battlegrounds finally gave me a reason to take Worms off the “games to play when BFFs come over” and instead put it on the “games to play all the time online with friends and enemies”. Battlegrounds has a great online setup that has maybe given me only one dropped match in the countless hours I have spent playing this year. I am currently ranked in the top 10 on the Worms leaderboards, and Battlegrounds has easily been my most-played game of the year.
3. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Wii U)
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was a game that I knew I would purchase when I first saw it revealed, but definitely not one I expected to have in my top three games of the year. When Captain Toad levels first made their appearance in Super Mario 3D World last year, I was hardly impressed. This was because after having all the freedom of the normal levels, the Captain Toad levels felt extremely slow, and hardly challenging; I honestly started skipping them after the first two worlds. But from the get-go Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker succeeds despite its limitations, and actually surpasses the aforementioned Mario game in my personal all-time list. The puzzles, presentation, and overall charm are hard-pressed to be matched by anything else this year. Captain Toad is such a tremendous game that has so much replayability and completionist material that is has not been turned off in my house since it was opened on Christmas, except when I have to go to sleep. Stupid sleep.
2. Lumino City (Steam)
Lumino City is the reason I play video games. It is, in my mind, a perfect game. The art, the music, and the game play all seem so finely tuned, as if it were made just for me. Point-and-click puzzle games are easily my favorite genre because of the intrigue and reward they aim to give, and it’s a genre that started out of technical limitations but has now has been embraced by a niche community of gamers. Lumino City is something I don’t really even want to talk about in lieu of spoiling too much. But do know this: the game itself actually takes place in a 10-foot high cardboard and paper model city complete with lights and small motors, all meticulously built by hand. If you are looking for a wholly original game designed by a incredibly creative small team of game developers, give it a look.
1. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is not the game I played most this past year, nor will it probably be the game I play most in 2015, but Smash Bros. is a game that is released once a decade and it’s a game I’ll play at least once a month over that entire decade. Also, when I do get together with friends to play Smash, we pretty much dedicate an entire day to playing and doing nothing else. Smash Bros. for Wii U was my most anticipated game of 2014 and it easily lived up to the hype. It is an extremely polished game and the best in the series. There is so much content to dig through and for the first time, Smash Bros. has a great online mode in which I can play with friends all over the world. This is the quintessential local multiplayer game, and one that I will play consistently until the next iteration is released.
This article is part of Invisible Gamer’s ongoing 2014 Game of the Year coverage. Stay tuned over the coming days for more top 10 lists, leading up to Invisible Gamer’s Official Top 10 Games of 2014.